Apostasy. The last time I visited the subject, an ex-Muslim man’s life was at stake in Afghanistan. Remember Abdul Rahman?
Now, meet Lina Joy. Like Rahman, she was born Muslim, converted to Christianity, and is facing death threats for abandoning Islam. She wants to marry a fellow Christian man in her native Malaysia. A Muslim legal advocate for Joy, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, also faces death threats for defending her in a case that has reached the highest court in their country. The Wall Street Journal and NYTimes both spotlight her plight today. WSJ summarizes:
In 1998, Azlina binti Jailani changed her name to Lina Joy and was baptized a Catholic in a church in Kuala Lumpur. Ms. Joy now wants the government to stop classifying her as a Muslim.
But it isn’t that simple: While Muslim-majority Malaysia is considered a largely moderate, modern society, renouncing one’s Muslim faith still is considered both sinful and illegal by Islamic authorities — who have gained increasing sway of late. Ms. Joy’s apostasy case, now before Malaysia’s highest court of appeal, has inflamed public debate, divided the legal community — a Muslim lawyer supporting Ms. Joy has received death threats — and threatens to set off political tremors in this Southeast Asian nation of 25 million people.
The landmark legal ruling, expected within a month, will help define Malaysia’s character as a nation.
“We are at a crossroad, whether we go down the line of secular constitutionalism or whether that constitution will now be read subject to religious requirements,” says Benjamin Dawson, one of Ms. Joy’s lawyers.
Malaysia has been governed for more than a half century by a tradition of civil law passed on by former British colonial rulers. A separate shariah, or Islamic, legal system has co-existed with civil law specifically to govern the religious lives of Muslim citizens, who are mostly ethnic Malays. About 40% of the population is ethnic Chinese, Indians and other minorities of other faiths.
But conservative Islam’s rise as a political force in the 1980s and 1990s has propelled pro-Western Malaysia — and its legal system — on a steady swing to the religious right. The government has ceded some powers once held by the civil-justice system to the shariah courts.
While the Quran states there should be “no compunction” in religion, Islamic authorities world-wide consider apostasy both a sin and a crime. In Malaysia, Islamic courts can sentence apostates to “rehabilitation” in prison-like re-education centers that sometimes use caning as part of their program.
Although Malaysia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, civil courts now routinely refer any cases involving Islamic matters for adjudication in shariah courts. And the shariah courts almost never grant Muslims the right to leave the religion.
The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship-Malaysia has more legal background. Wikipedia (always taken with a grain of salt) has an extensive entry on the status of religious freedom in Malaysia and Christian persecution including the loss of the right to marry, torture, illegal imprisonment, and loss of the right to work. The Catholic Church that baptized Joy is reportedly being targeted by police. Malaysia’s prime minister is calling for expanding bans on proselytizing to Muslims.
An Islamic scholar explains why Muslims must not be allowed to leave:
“If Islam were to grant permission for Muslims to change religion at will, it would imply it has no dignity, no self-esteem,” said Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad, senior fellow at Malaysia’s Institute of Islamic Understanding.
“And people may then question its completeness, truthfulness and perfection.”
Yoo-hoo, American feminists. Have you nothing to say about this case? Perhaps if Lina Joy were clamoring for the right to marry an atheist woman instead of a Christian man, you’d be all over it, huh?
Flashback: At Dhimmi Watch, read Ibn Warraq’s 2004 paper on Islam, Apostasy, and Human Rights.
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